CONGRESSIONAL Medal of Honor winner Lt. Gen. James "Jimmy" Doolittle, now 81, sat behind a desk at the National Aviation Club's quarters at the Mayflower Hotel signing prints by artist John White of his B-25B bomber taking off from the U.S.S. Hornet.

Doolittle is the fabled flier who led America's first air strike against Japan, 36 years ago on April 18, 1942, six months after the Pearl Harbor attack shattered the U.S. Navy's Pacific Fleet.

The raid was only a "sting," but it had a psychological effect on the Japanese after their war lords had convinced them that "no bombs would fall on Japan."

Doolittle, a heavily decorated flyer who held many air-speed records, was trained as an engineer at MIT, where he received an MS in 1942 and a DSc in 1925.

He looked back on the famed Tokyo raid as a job that had to be done.

Flying the first of the 16 B-25 Mitchell Bombers, loaded with a ton of bombs each and extra gas tanks, the takeoff from the Hornet was dangerous. The bombers evaded Japanese antiaircraft guns, bombed military targets in Tokyo and bailed out over China.

Three of the flyers died during crash-landings and eight were captured by the Japanese, who executed three of them as "war criminals."

After his Washington visit last week, Doolittle was on his way to the annual reunion of the Doolittle Raidersat Rapid City, S.D., which ends today.

Of the 180 flyers who volunteered for the mission 36 years ago, 53 are still alive.

"We usually have about 35 to 40 at the reunion," said Doolittle.

"Many of them bring their families, their children, and some even their grandchildren.

Doolittle rarely takes part in politics, saying, "My interest always has been technical rather than political. "I know nothing about politics."

About history and society he does hold a viewpoint. "It seems to me our society has gone to the team rather than the individual effort," he said, "It is very difficult today for an individual to stand out the way it was possible in the simpler world of yesterday.

"Not that we don't have leaders - good leaders. But the techonology has become so complex that an assessment of few developments has to be taken that requires far more than one mind."

When he thought back, he said, "I have lived in an extremely interesting period. I was born in 1906 and saw the automobile come into being, then the airplane. I saw radio and television and computers come into being.

He has always been interested in physical fitness and looks fit enough to be back on active duty. He keep regular office hours as a consultant to an insurance company.

"I grew up in Nome, Alaska, and I was the smallest kid in school," he laughed. (He is 5 feet 6 today.) "Each youngster that came to town had to whip me before he could whip a bigger kid. I learned early how to take care of myself and learned the importance of keeping in shape.

"So there is an advantage to being small. It's an incentive to tiny excellence."

Doolitle still puts himself through a tough exercise program every morning "although I have not been as religious at it as I used to be. I still chin myself 10 times with both hands.

"Not so long ago I used to cin myself with one hand, but those days are gone forever."